Daniel Abraham. The Curandero and the Swede : a Tale from the 1001 American Nights.
Taking his new girlfriend to his family in the country, and worrying what his family will make of her, a young man learns a lot from his Uncle – on the nature of the country in which they live, the bordertown nature, due to peoples living there before them, and peoples who will live there after them, and how things can be learnt and stories can be told to ease the historic pains and sorrows – stories within stories within stories.
It’s a subtle story, which sticks its barbs into your mind very painlessly, but leaves you feeling that you’ve come out with more from the story that the narrative would suggest.
Yoon Ha Lee. The Unstrung Zither.
A young woman is suprised to find that her musical talents are required to get into the minds of those who have attacked the Empire. These pilots of metal dragons have come offplanet, resisting the yoke of Imperial oppression; and there is a game to be played which mirrors the war between Empire and resistant territories.
The story tries to fit in a lot into it’s short space, including familial, political, symbolic and societal background, and music. All these contribute to the protagonist going from loyal subject of the Empire to someone willing to overthrow it and in doing so travel to another world. This radical volte-face is a rapid one, of the type that leaves the reader feeling that perhaps a couple of pages have been inadvertently skipped. Chris Roberson’s got there first, and to better effect, with his ‘Celestical Empire’ series of stories.
Robert Bloch. The Hell Bound Train.
This issue’s classic reprint is almost 50 years old, and tells of a man who makes a deal with the aforementioned train. When the time of reckoning comes, he is able to turn the tables on the person with whom he made his deal, but is in fact more than happy to ride the train. The introduction to the story, by William Tell, which describes the then-newly appointed editors role in getting the story into print is fascinating.
Marc Laidlaw. Quickstone.
a-Wandering bard Gorlen finds his way into the pages of F&SF once again, with gargoyle-related challenges to be overcome-d.
Robert Reed. Shadow Below.
Reed has had several stories about the boy Raven appear in F&SF, the first going back almost 10 years. For someone who struggles to remember details of stories going back just 1 year, it is somewhat frustrating trying to pick up the pieces with this latest installment.
Shadow-Below is the uncle of Raven, a Lakota who has also fled the strange world in which they live, which is at a slight tangent to the world we know. In taking a group of wealthy paying tourists into the ‘wilderness’, the story arc is progressed.
The Abraham story has a lot of depth in it, but other than that, what with the longish gap since the previous Raven story, the issue isn’t a show-stopper.